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Governor Continues to Turn His Back on Education as Cabinet Post to Oversee Revamp of Colleges, Universities Remains Empty Four Months Past Deadline

The lead Assembly sponsors of a law passed in January to create greater accountability and transparency at state colleges and universities today urged Governor Christie to call a truce in his war on New Jersey’s education system and stop cherry-picking the laws he chooses to implement.

The sponsors – Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan, Assembly Education Committee Chair Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. and Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Pamela Lampitt – sent a letter to Christie today urging him to act immediately to fulfill his obligation under the new law to nominate an individual to the newly created cabinet-level post of Secretary of Higher Education.

“On January 19, the Governor placed his hand on the Bible and swore to enforce the laws of the state of New Jersey. The statutory mandate to create the position of Secretary of Higher Education is not discretionary; it is the law,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Even more importantly, the law puts in place audit controls and transparency mandates which will guarantee that education dollars are properly spent and accounted for. It received overwhelming bipartisan support from both the Senate and the Assembly. When coupled with the recent revelations concerning the inaction of the $50 million per year Schools Development Authority and the Governor’s continued failure to nominate a Commissioner of Education, a disturbing pattern emerges. One can only conclude that education is not a priority for this administration.”

The sponsors stressed that the deadline for nominating someone to the post that will oversee the state Commission on Higher Education (CHE) was July 17, 2010, 180 days after the legislation (S-1609) was signed into law last session and now nearly four months overdue. The lawmakers noted that the persistent vacancy in this new post has also led to the Christie administration’s failure to implement any of the other provisions of the law that would create greater accountability, oversight and transparency in terms of how money is spent at the higher education level.

“Since this law was signed into place in January, New Jersey college students have been hit with anywhere from a 3.5 to 7.3 percent increase in tuition,” said Cryan (D-Union). “Given the complexity of this law, and what’s at stake for our students and our taxpayers, it’s time for the Governor to declare a truce in his war on education and do what’s right for our students.”

The law implements many recommendations contained in an October 2007 report by the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) which noted many instances where public money was vulnerable to waste, abuse and violations of the public trust and detailed the need to restore accountability, transparency and oversight to New Jersey’s public higher education system.

The law mandates that all state colleges and universities be subject to rigorous, uniform standards governing financial management and internal controls modeled after the federal Sarbanes-Oxley law, including strengthening board governance and oversight.

“Right now there is an absence of leadership in higher education. We’re at a critical juncture and our colleges and universities need a strong voice to serve as both an advocate and a watchdog,” said Lampitt (D-Camden). “It’s important that the Governor work with us to ensure that the proper governance is in place to strengthen our higher education system and create greater accountability and transparency for our students and our taxpayers.”

The NJ Conference of the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers, Health Professionals and Allied Employees-UMDNJ, and Rutgers University-AFT/AAUP have all been vocal proponents of the law. Today they joined with the sponsors in urging the Governor to take action in the interest of reining in financial costs and improving the delivery of education and healthcare services.

“It’s truly astonishing that an individual who was charged with enforcing the law while he was a federal prosecutor now chooses to ignore laws he does not like since becoming governor,” said College Council – AFT President Nicholas C. Yovnello.

“State residents, elected officials, our students and our faculty and staff deserve and expect to know where our tax and tuition dollars are being spent,” said Amy Bahruth, President of the NJ Conference of the AAUP and Adrienne E. Eaton, a Professor in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations and President of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT.

“With the enforcement of S-1609, the Governor would establish himself as the strong advocate for education that he claims to be, by emphatically stating that New Jersey’s higher education system must be transparent, accountable and accessible,” said Dr. Dierdre Glenn Paul, Executive Vice President of AFT-NJ’s Higher Education Division.

“Recently, the AAUP and the University have identified a trend of experienced faculty leaving UMDNJ for more lucrative offers elsewhere. In the interest of protecting our finances so that the university can continue to offer attractive incentives to recruit and retain top-notch faculty, the Governor needs to act immediately to appoint someone to fill the post of Secretary of Higher Education,” said Alex Bernstein, Executive Director, AAUP-UMDNJ.

“As a health professional at UMDNJ, I have witnessed first-hand the misuse and inefficiencies in the institutions that we all trust to provide education and health care services. HPAE calls on Governor Christie’s administration to implement this law to ensure our tax dollars are not wasted,” said Thomas Murphy, President of the Health Professionals & Allied Employees (HPAE) Local 5094, which represents more than 3,600 health professionals and registered nurses at UMDNJ.

Additional provisions in the law include requiring all public institutions to conduct annual internal audits, retention of a certified public accountant (CPA) to conduct annual independent audits and the establishment of an audit committee to assist the board in ensuring and safeguarding the integrity of the institution’s financial statements, investigate allegations of misconduct or conflict of interest; and ensure the institution’s compliance with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements. The president and CFO of every public institution would also be required to provide CHE with an annual audit.

The law also puts in place stricter oversight on lobbyists working on behalf of public higher education institutions. Furthermore, the CHE would meet at least once a year with representatives of all higher education institutions and convene a network of academics and researchers to create economic development policies and programs for the higher education community. Public institutions would also be required to submit to CHE long-range facility plans on projects to be developed with state funds. CHE would then provide a response to the institution with the commission’s input within one semester.